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Political Organizer On Biden Not Supporting Calls To Defund Police

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Vice President Joe Biden is expected to make an appearance at George Floyd's funeral in Houston today with a video message. And as the community and Floyd's family prepare to lay George Floyd to rest, protesters' calls to defund the police have only intensified. But former Vice President Biden made it clear in an interview with CBS News that he doesn't think that's a good idea.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: No, I don't support defunding the police. I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community.

MARTIN: So where does Biden's position leave him with Democratic voters? Joining us now to talk through this is Aimee Allison. She's a political organizer and founder of She the People, a group working to politically empower women of color. Aimee, thanks for being here.

AIMEE ALLISON: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: What do you make of Biden's message here?

ALLISON: Well, we're living in a reality where, despite a life-altering pandemic, the most sustained protests in U.S. history have taken hold with one demand, which is defund the police. And we understand the phrase defund the police to be shorthand for a range of serious policy proposals that will end the cycle of police violence against black people and put public safety before violence. But if Joe Biden is not serious about ending that cycle, he's risking the success of his campaign. I mean, this is the make-or-break moment for him.

MARTIN: But as you just point out, some of this is semantic, is it not? Defunding the police, that word doesn't necessarily mean eliminating police departments. It can mean redistributing police funds to boost up other social services.

ALLISON: That's right. Yeah. It's really a call to reimagine public safety. I mean, we all saw what played out with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many others. It calls us to have a serious conversation about how we can redirect funds to education, mental health, homelessness, access to business capital - things that will actually create public safety as opposed to padding police budgets.

In my hometown, the police budget takes more than 50% of the city budget - looking at redirecting resources to social services in a way that would make everyone feel safer and be more effective. I mean, really what people in the streets are calling for - and this is, you know, people across the country - is to break this cycle. And Joe Biden, his campaign, has got to take that seriously if he's going to be on the right side of history...

MARTIN: You don't think they are? You don't think that if you set the word aside - defunding the police - you don't think, on the substance of it, that he agrees?

ALLISON: You know, if he says - if he dismisses the phrase - nope, we're not going to defund the police - it's not admitting that the police departments in a lot of - in most municipalities are receiving, you know, really, a lion's share of resources with the idea that putting more money into police is going to make people feel safer. But the reality is, and what the protests are about, is that that's a set of policy priorities and budget priorities that has led to the current moment that, really, a serious consideration about where money is spent, inviting a public conversation that, you know, we need to rethink policing.

And really, this is an opportunity for him to come to account for his role in promoting the crime bill back in the '90s that led to a lot of federal support of local police departments, federal, you know, arming of police departments and a lot more expectations and money that goes toward them. It's really around having a serious policy conversation. But look; it's the time for Joe Biden to take these issues seriously.

You know, I really think most of us, and the people that I work with and talk to across the country, are expecting Joe Biden's campaign to unveil a comprehensive racial justice platform that reimagines public safety - with historic investments of education, mental health, housing - and surround himself with champions who understand that the Democratic base, which is one-fourth black people, one-half people of color, who are targeted and unfairly harassed and victims of police violence. He needs to respond and respond in a way that's not tinkering around the edges, but is a comprehensive and powerful way to carry these issues and respond to the protests in the streets.

MARTIN: I mean, do you believe that the protesters in the streets are representative of the broader African American community? I mean, Joe Biden enjoys a lot of support, especially among African American - older African Americans. Is it something that could genuinely hurt him against Trump?

ALLISON: Well, here's the thing. I think there's broad support. And, you know, the fact that we've had sustained protests in 50 states...

MARTIN: Yeah.

ALLISON: ...Really speaks to that. It's not just the core of black people who are very upset...

MARTIN: Yeah.

ALLISON: ...It's a multiracial coalition. And that's, really, the Democratic base, it's black people being - and black women - being the most loyal and highest turnout voters in a multiracial coalition. So I do...

MARTIN: OK.

ALLISON: ...Think that Joe Biden can't - he has to respond and have a policy prescription that addresses these needs.

MARTIN: Aimee Allison, founder She the People, we appreciate it. Thank you.

ALLISON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
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